response to John Gordon's
SAVING THE VISUAL ARTS
from: Owen Paepke: email@example.com
John Gordon's excellent essay ("Saving the Visual Arts")
reminded me of a 1969(!) essay by Gunther Stent, "The End
of the Arts and Sciences." His subject was "the historical
trend for progressive relaxation of stylistic canon."
As artistic evolution unfolds, the artist is being
freed more and more from strict canons governing the method
of working his medium of creative expression. The end result
of this evolution has been that . . . the artist's liberation
has been almost total [which] now creates very great difficulties
for the appreciation of his work.
With respect to the visual arts, Stent argued
that a painter no longer "fashion[s] his works as new,
meaningful statements about the world. He merely adds to the
experiential repertoire of his audience, which is to make of
these works what it will."
Gordon urges a "strict adherence to visual
truth." The modernist and postmodernist departure from
that canon, indeed, the denial that any such truth exists, appears
to be an important example of Stent's more general case. If
Stent was right, however, Gordon's hopes are bound to be dashed.
Stent argued that relaxation of stylistic canons was an inevitable,
one-way trip, driven by the very forces of creativity. In music,
for example, Bach composed a body of perfect fugues (let's assume).
Any fugue that Mozart might compose would therefore have seemed
either inferior or derivative. Bach had exhausted the canon,
at least from the perspective of other composers of genius.
To do something important and worthy of his talents, Mozart
had to ignore or at least relax the canon. And so on, generation
after generation, until we arrive at John Cage.
All of which leaves many lovers of art going to
museums and symphony halls to see or listen to 18th and 19th
century works that they can at least understand and appreciate.